The town of Hormigueros is best known for being the site of a miracle that occurred in the 16th century and spurred the construction of a basilica which, to this day, is visited by hundreds of people each year.
Hormigueros is one of the smallest towns in Puerto Rico, measuring just over 11 square miles, and its name means "anthills." There are a few theories about where the name came from, with some people pointing at the hilly topography of the area. Others believe it stems from the Taíno word Horomico, which means river of gold since the nearby river was panned for gold by the Spanish.
Our Lady of Montserrat Church and Pilgrim's House
On the highest hill of the urban center of Hormigueros stands the imposing Basílica Menor Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate (in English, Our Lady of Monserrat Church). For over 400 years this sanctuary has been devoted to the Virgin of Monserrat, one of the Black Madonnas of Europe and patron saint of the region of Cataluña in Spain.
In 1590, Giraldo González, a local farmer (although in some versions of the legend he is described as a Catalan estate owner), encountered a wild bull while wandering around the hills. The bull prepared to charge at him and, in desperation, González prayed to the Virgin of Monserrat for help. At that moment, the bull knelt before him and put its head down. González believed the Virgin had appeared and gestured for the bull to stand down. In honor of this miracle, he built a chapel on the hill devoted to the Virgin of Monserrat.
A second miracle occurred when González's 8-year-old daughter disappeared in the countryside and reappeared 15 days later, happy, clean, and with her clothes intact. She said a woman had taken care of her and González believed the Virgin had once again appeared, this time saving his daughter.
As news of these miracles spread across the Island, people came from miles away to visit the chapel and show their devotion to the Virgin. The small chapel was named a National Sanctuary in 1720 and in the 1770s construction of the church began. Then in 1874, the church as it stands now was founded, with an altar designed by Puerto Rican artist José Campeche. In 1998, the church was granted the status of minor basilica by Pope John Paul II.
Behind the basilica is the Pilgrim's House, which was built in the 17th century to receive the pilgrims that would come from around the Island to visit the chapel. Since 1975, both the church and the Pilgrim’s House have been listed on the United States Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
Every September 8, the town celebrates the Festival of the Virgin of Monserrat and pilgrims once again come from around the Island to show their devotion and celebrate the miracles.